Great Smoky Mountains National Park reaches biodiversity milestone of 20,000 species

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GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) – Twenty-thousand species of plants, animals and other organisms have now been officially accounted for in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, marking a biodiversity milestone.

Park officials saying Thursday that scientists from across the world have assisted the park in a concerted effort to catalog all life in the park through an All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI).

“Reaching this milestone is a testament to the curiosity, tenacity, and dedication of the biological community,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “Each year, we have scientists who share their time and expertise to help us better describe, understand, and protect the wonders of the Smokies.”

In the 21 years of its existence, the ATBI has documented over 9,500 new species records for the park and an additional 1,006 species that are completely new to science.

Among the newest species records in the park are the giant bark aphid (Longistigma caryae), which is the largest aphid in the US; the Blue Ridge three-lobed coneflower (Rudbeckia triloba var. rupestris), a handsome wildflower native to Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina; the frosted elfin butterfly (Callophrys irus), a rare butterfly whose caterpillars feed on lupine and indigo; and the yellow passion flower bee (Anthemurgus passiflorae), which exclusively pollinates the small flowers of the yellow passion flower. In addition, the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) was recently documented in the park for the first time.

Frosted elfin butterfly. (Photo: Tom Howe)
Blue Ridge three-lobed cornflowers. (Photo: Keith Langdon)
Yellow passion flower bee. (Photo: Katherine Parys)

The ATBI is an ongoing project to study the diversity of life in the Smokies including where the species can be found, how abundant they are, and how they interact with one another.

The project is managed by Discover Life in America (DLiA), a nonprofit partner of the park, in cooperation with park staff.

“This is a remarkable achievement—cataloging so many species in this relatively small region!” said Dr. Will Kuhn, Director of Science and Research for DLiA. “But, we think that there are still tens of thousands of species waiting to be discovered in the park. We’ve still got work to do!”

Research efforts are partially supported by Friends of the Smokies and Great Smoky Mountains Association. For more information about DLiA, please visit www.dlia.org or www.facebook.com/DLIAorg.

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